Bail Is Denied for Sect Leader
Accused of Molesting Children
New York Times/May 15, 2002
By David Firestone
Atlanta -- The leader of a black religious sect based in an
isolated rural Georgia compound was denied bail today after
federal prosecutors said he had molested dozens of children
in the last decade.
Dwight Z. York, the spiritual leader of a group called the
United Nuwaubian Nation of Moors, was charged by a state
grand jury on Monday with 74 counts of child molestation,
along with rape charges. Mr. York was arrested last week by
the F.B.I. on federal charges of sexual exploitation of
Mr. York has denied the charges.
The arrest is the latest clash between the authorities and
the 150-member group since it moved in 1993 from the
Bushwick section of Brooklyn to a 400-acre ranch in Putnam
County, about 65 miles southeast of Atlanta. Group members
have long said they were being persecuted by white
authorities because of their race.
There have been several standoffs over the years when county
officials tried to investigate zoning violations on the
property, like operating a nightclub and retail stores on
land zoned for agricultural use.
Neighbors have complained about a 40-foot pyramid the group
erected on the Egyptian-themed compound, along with statues
of ancient gods.
But the complaints against the group were never particularly
serious until last week, when F.B.I. agents raided the
compound and arrested Mr. York and his companion, Kathy
Johnson, after a four-year investigation prompted by a
complaint to a local social services agency. The authorities
said they believed that as many as 35 children, ages 4 to
18, had been molested by Mr. York.
An F.B.I. agent, Jalaine Ward, said that the government had
testimony from 15 witnesses who said Mr. York molested the
children and that some of the acts could be documented with
videotapes and photographs. Some of the children are
expected to testify against Mr. York.
At today's hearing, several of Mr. York's followers
testified that they knew of no sexual abuse, and doctors for
the group said they had seen no signs of molestation.
Mr. York's lawyer, Leroy Johnson, said he had seen no
evidence to back up the government's charges, and he said
some of the children had been coached by the group's enemies
to lie about Mr. York.
"He was black in a white community," Mr. Johnson said, "and
he had the audacity to put up those huge statues. When that
was done, it created a fear in the mind of those folks there
against this group."
The Putnam County sheriff, Howard Sills, denied that race
had had anything to do with the charges.
"There's not one shred of evidence of that," Sheriff Sills
said. "It is an opportunistic thing being used by
individuals responsible for heinous crimes."
After the hearing, Claude Hicks, a federal magistrate,
refused to release Mr. York on bail, saying there was
probable cause to believe that abuse would continue if he
Mr. York is a felon who served three years in prison in the
1960's for resisting arrest, assault and possession of a
dangerous weapon. In the late 1980's and early 1990's, he
led a mosque on Bushwick Avenue in Brooklyn, where his
followers, sometimes clad in long white robes and armed with
shotguns, guarded the building.